It’s our top priority, saysSushma Swaraj as 129 students arrested in US

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj has assuredthat she and her team are giving “top priority” to the 130 Indian students arrested in the United States for enrolling themselves in fake universities.

In what the authorities called a “pay-to-stay” scheme, foreign students knowingly enrolled in the fake school to falsely maintain their student visa status and remain in the US, according to prosecutors.

The students were arrested in anundercover operation by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS designed to expose immigration fraud. The operation was conducted in the university in Detroit’s Farmington Hills, according to federal prosecutors who announced charges in the case.

The arrests took place across the US, in New Jersey, Atlanta, Houston, Michigan, California, Louisiana, North Carolina and St Louis. The students had immigrated legally to the US on student visas and had transferred to the University of Farmington so they could work, said attorneys.

Ravi Mannam, an immigration attorney in Atlanta, said the fake university “hooked these students by promising them credits for their previous master’s programmes”.

He said what the University of Farmington was offering – allowing students to work while enrolled – is not unusual. So the students may have thought it was an authorised university and work programme through a type of F-1 visa known as CPT (Curricular Practical Training.

Michael Sofo, an attorney in Atlanta with Mannan and Associates, said based on what he has heard about the students, it’s “not been the case” that they were knowingly participating in an illegal operation.